Tag Archives: learning difficulties

Street Cat and Feral Heart: why I stopped supporting the Big Issue

It’s been a time of social justice films. Whether or not they are actually just is another matter.

I’m not going to analyse the quality of the films, although I will say that the two I saw this week were not films I especially rated.

One was My Feral Heart about a man with Downs syndrome who befriends a man who does community support work as a punishment for his involvement in animal welfare activism. What I got from that was the incredibly dreadful way that care homes treat people. The carers might mean well, but they have no idea about dignity, or that those who can’t communicate as they do or have the same motor skills are not less able to think and feel.

A Street Cat Named Bob is far too popular – unlike the smaller release film above which I saw at a festival and made a point of supporting.

Unlike I, Daniel Blake, or My Feral Heart, the protagonist’s situation is one we may struggle to sympathise with – for James is a homeless druggie. The cat with matching hair helps us be endeared. But I felt for Baz, the other homeless guy who James rejects and then finds dead of an overdose. We might too push away this snot nosed needy young man whom had no one to mourn him, no one to fight to put him on a recovery programme. It’s the Bazes that I really worry about. I worry how many there are. But I have heard statistics that say there are far less dying of illegal drugs than prescribed ones.

The Bob story is true. And of course I’m glad that James found a way off the streets and off harmful drugs – both sorts. But there was much I found grating. One was his writing success, when he wasn’t even a writer. Many writers – me included – work for years, perhaps in poverty, until they gain recognition. I can understand how other Big Issue sellers and buskers would be resentful of the attention that a ginger tom gave James.

The  film considers that James’s ultimate success is that he has bought a property, in London, Europe’s most expensive city.

It reminded me of The Soloist, another true story about a musician living on the street, this time in LA. And I was angry too at the rules that Nathaniel – that’s the Soloist – was made to subscribe to by hostels and other helpers.

Just like Luke in My Feral Heart was expected to in the residential home for those with learning difficulties. Just like James was by his support worker and the Big Issue Office.

Are none of these aware of transactional analysis, and that it’s more than the special needs guy that it keeps in nappies?!

I understood why Nathaniel wanted to keep out of the system.

I have always sympathised with homeless people and often bought the Big Issue – I’ve also offered them articles.

I hate that the Big Issue is ‘a hand up, not a hand out’. I’ve often asked what our issue is with the idea of giving for giving’s sake, without expectation of the recipient or expecting something out of it.

It’s called grace.

I also hate that the Big Issue is resocialisation into the world of capitalism, where you become useful by selling – a frankly often unwanted magazine of varying quality – and by learning about profit.

The way the Big Issue is portrayed here makes me decide not to support it again. I care about the people selling it. But if the office is full of blunt tough love and lots of rules – including CUTTING SELLERS’ SOURCE OF INCOME over a squabble about selling patches – then I will find another way to support those without homes.

Note again how patches are about territory. I saw Swallows and Amazons – the original – for the first and last time, and these children of military parents were claiming and defending territory in their games, making rules, making leaders to obey without dissent.

James not only lost his Big Issue selling, but he was banned from busking by the police for being the victim of an act of aggression. Busking is how James survived. (Unlike Daniel Blake, no mention of benefits offices here). If he was caught busking, James would lose his recovery programme.

And Joanne Frogatt’s Val was angering – are support workers that bad or is it just how they always appear on the screen? Why did he hug and thank her when she’d been horrid to him in the hospital and forced him to be on a prescribed, profit making drug which is harder to come off than the one he was trying to give up?

He had to go to chemist for a regular dose of methadone or lose his support programme and his disgusting home that only a homeless person would be glad of.

I noted how public his reporting to the chemist was – so that his almost girlfriend learns he’s on drugs when she comes in to shop and sees him taking the familiar little cup.

The Bob cat film also pertains to be about animal rights, but the intrusive procedures that deprived Bob of his intimate parts infuriated me. If we did that to a woman, we call it genital mutilation; if we do it to an animal, we say (as in the words of the film) it’s giving the cat a chance to survive. It’s all about territory and fighting – just like both druggies, buskers and Big Issue sellers.

And all this done by a charity who gives ‘care’ for free and then sees James give his week’s food money to a harsh receptionist for the drugs he didn’t know he’d have to pay for. Cat drugs that is, prescription post operative ones.

Unlike Daniel Blake, which was clearly indicting the system, I wasn’t sure how My Feral Heart or A Street Cat Named Bob wanted their audience to feel. Was I meant to like these support workers? Was I meant to feel grateful for the organisations and institutions which these protagonists got embroiled in?

Was there not a critique of the police’s busking ban, the Big Issue’s selling ban (like benefit sanctions) and general tone towards its sellers, the animal welfare charity, the care home that an independent man who’d looked after others is forced into?!

Has this not caused a furore about how prescribed drugs are creating a revenue out of those on proscribed ones, and are causing them as much harm?

I’ll have more to say about pro and prescribed drugs another time.

PS I wrote to the Big Issue for comment and didn’t really get any defence, save to say that James chose to be involved in a recent magazine and has a good relationship with them.

 

 

 

 

 

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